Aug 18, 2012

Leif Garrett

Even in the glam-rock 1970’s, when swishy postures were sexy and the androgynous became superstars, Leif was so absolutely girlish in every word and gesture, polarized so far into the feminine, that only the pronouns of “he” and “him” gave any indication that this person should be taken as male. And, in spite of a recurring role on Family as the “boyfriend” of aggressively masculine tomboy Buddy (Kristy McNichol), it was impossible to imagine Leif ever sleeping with a girl.  Even the teen magazines made quite a mystery of Leif’s romantic interests. One 1977 article, promising “99 Fax About Leif,” divulged only that he enjoyed playing Monopoly, he preferred being shirtless, and he had never told a girl “I love you.” Perhaps he had told a boy, as they lounged around the house shirtless, playing Monopoly?

Leif seemed conflicted about how epicene his public persona should be. At first he was adamantly, defiantly girlish, but when fans began complaining that parents wouldn’t allow his pinups because he looked too much like a girl, he adopted a new persona, sullen and inarticulate, and, he hoped, masculine. Instead he became androgynous, a Caravaggio youth, or the blond feminine Tadzio who leads Aschenbach to his doom in Death in Venice. The teen magazines did their part: an article in Tiger Beat announced that his first love was skateboarding “next to music and girls, of course,”  and another assured readers that “Leif is a He-Man,” detailing his enthusiasm for jogging, swimming, and horseback riding (still, nary a macho sport in the lot).

Leif released his first album, entitled Leif Garrett, in the fall of 1977, before he was old enough to drive a car; the cover shows him in a maroon shirt, again unbuttoned all the way down to his navel, revealing a smooth, firm, but undefined chest, shoulder-length blond hair, and a round androgynous face. The overt eroticism of the cover art belies the romantic innocence of the tracks, mostly covers of rock classics such as “Johnny B. Goode,” “California Girls,” and “Surfin’ USA.” Nevertheless, several tracks manage to avoid the “girl” filler, making Leif a possible successor to gay-friendly Shaun Cassidy

In Feel the Need, released during the summer of 1978, Leif rebels against both androgyny and feel-good country constraints; in a red blouse, wide-lapelled leather jacket, and grenadier-belt, with a full Farrah Faucett blow-dried hairdo, he could almost be a drag queen. Now the songs stray far from the heteronormative “Runaround Sue” to “I Was Made or Dancing” and “Without You,” which omit pronouns and girls’ names, suggesting that the pain of love could apply equally to boys and girls. Indeed, “Livin’ Without Your Love,” about walking through an empty house after his lover is gone, seems to favor the boy-reading. Leif sings:

Time is such a lonely friend, and the time on my hands is showin'
Nothin' is worse than finally knowin', and livin' without your love.

In real life, Leif apparently enjoys the company of women; he was married once, and was heartbroken when a long-term girlfriend died.  He has never made a public statement acknowledging his gay fans.

The Omen

The gay romance in The Omen (1976) begins in the first scene, when paparazzo Keith Jennings (David Warner) waxes indignant at the excess with which Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), celebrates the birthday of his five-year old son, Damien. But then he discovers a more serious problem: some of his photographs show ominous shadows pointing at people associated with Damien, and soon they end up dead!

Keith approaches Thorn with his findings, and for some reason the Ambassador believes him, and instantly drops his professional duties to accompany Keith on a jaunt across Europe. They interview  nuns, raid an old Etruscan graveyard, and sleuth out clues to discover the evil force behind the deaths: little Damien is the Antichrist!

Meanwhile their relationship becomes increasingly intimate, at least on Keith's part. He quickly drops the “Ambassador” for “Robert,” but Robert does not once call Keith by his first name. Keith frequently gazes doe-eyed at the handsome but troubled Robert, but Robert does not gaze back. Even in 1976, I could read the signs of unrequited love.


In the novel, Keith is a slimy, despicable cad, but David Warner plays him as quirky and likeable, as a somewhat naïve champion of the underdog. More interestingly, the novel spares us no detail about Keith’s rabid and perverse heterosexuality, but in the film, he displays not a hint of heterosexual desire; indeed, a middle-aged photographer who wears a colorful gabardine long after Carnaby Street has become passé, never glances at a woman, and casts doe-eyes at his male companion, could hardly be anything but gay.

Keith and Thorn share a hotel room – it is odd that the wealthy ambassador couldn’t afford separate rooms. After a heavy day of sleuthing, Keith returns to find Thorn lying on his bed, facing away; he has just been notified that his wife committed suicide. “Robert,” Keith says, tentatively. The camera tightens on Thorn’s face, obscuring the rest of the room as he struggles with his grief. I was certain that Keith had drawn him close and was hugging him tenderly.

In the novel, the conflict lies between Thorn’s “perfect” heteronormative world and gay outsiders attempting to destroy it. In the film, the conflict instead lies between a decayed, effete heterosexual practice and the awe-inspiring potential of same-sex desire. The Antichrist bodes the end of men loving men – “man against man until man shall be no more" – and that very love saves the day. The Satanic act that finally convinces Thorn to rid the world of the Antichrist (by killing Damien) is not his wife’s suicide, but the decapitation and symbolic castration of his male friend Keith. 

The discoherence between film and novel is especially interesting when one considers that David Seltzer, who wrote both, associated same-sex love with the Unpardonable Sin itself. In the novel, we hear that Father Tomassi, a missionary in southern Africa, “broke the primitive laws of God and Man” by having an affair with a Kikuyu youth. Realizing that God, who is evidently heterosexual, now hates him, he has no recourse but to join a satanic coven and help orchestrate the birth of the Antichrist.

Though Seltzer proved himself the antithesis of a gay ally, the rest of the cast and crew were somewhat more gay friendly. David Warner has played a variety of quirky outsider characters, recently specializing in villains with sophisticated accents (see him in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Gregory Peck, whose Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) was supposed to be about homophobia before studio execs closeted it into antisemitism, was a long-time champion of gay rights, and in 1997, at the age of seventy-one, he became a presenter at the G.L.A.A.D. Media Awards. 

Aug 17, 2012

Fonzie Before Happy Days

Lords of Flatbush (1974) was a precursor of next year’s Happy Days, about four Brooklyn greasers (about 30 years old but still in high school) whose same-sex relationships are doomed by the “discovery” of girls. Chico (Perry King) courts a rich girl, and Stanley (Sylvester Stallone, pre-Rocky, never shirtless but filling out his t-shirts beautifully) gets his girlfriend pregnant.

 The other two gang members, Butchie (Henry Winkler) and Wimpy (Paul Mace), seem not particularly interested in girls, in spite of their obligatory smooching sounds and breast-grabbing gestures whenever girls pass. 

 Butchie especially, short, slim, with a desperate, haunted look in his eyes and a curious diminution of a name that protests too much, behaves in a decidedly transgressive fashion.  He likes boys, but the objects of his interest keep rejecting him.

Late one evening, the others decide to look for girls, but Butchie wants to hang out at the deserted soda shop with Eddie (Joe Stern), the dark, curly-haired soda jerk. No one else is present, so Eddie asks if they might “get personal.” Butchie, grinning, says: “as long as you don’t come over here and give me a great big kiss, anything goes.”

This is a curious response; although his grin suggests that he is stating a laughable absurdity, his quickness at considering it, and the accumulation of adjectives (it’s not just a kiss, it’s a great big kiss) suggest that it is close to conscious thought: perhaps Eddie could kiss him. Indeed, he has specifically rejected an evening of girl-chasing to be alone with a man. What does he expect to happen? 

 But then Eddie rejects him, telling him that he is wasting his life by spending all of his time in the soda shop, oblivious to the possibility that Butchie might hang out there because he likes Eddie. Understandably angry, Butchie goes home.

Later, Chico sneaks into Butchie’s room. They sit, one on a chair, the other on the bed. “Do you have anything to tell me?” Butchie asks. They gaze at each other for a long moment. 

 Chico considers telling him something, but then decides against it. What are they leaving unsaid? Somewhat angry, Butchie prods him further: “Because if you don’t have anything to tell me, I guess I could go to sleep.”

Chico stares at him for a moment more, and then angrily jumps up and runs for the door, refusing to tell him, leaving Butchie silent and frustrated, rejected twice on the same evening. Butchie remains silent and frustrated as Chico, still refusing to tell him, weds the rich girl.

Henry Winkler went on to superstardom as Fonzie on Happy Days, a sitcom that also had tons of gay content.

Aug 16, 2012

Why I Walked Out on Spiderman

I was asked if I ever see a movie that doesn't have gay characters or a gay subtext.

Not often. If it's of historical importance, or if the premise is intriguing, maybe.

For instance, let's look at the top grossing films of 2002 that I didn't see.

1. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Who wants to see a movie about heterosexuals getting married?
2. Austin Powers in Gold Member. It stars the homophobic Seth Green.
3. Men in Black 2.  It stars the homophobic Will Smith.
4. Die Another Day. Trailer showed Pierce Brosnan kissing women.

5. The Bourne Identity.  Trailer showed man (Matt Damon, left) hooking up with woman.
6. Maid in Manhattan. Ralph Fiennes in love with a woman.
7. Red Dragon. Sequel to the homophobic Silence of the Lambs.
8. The Time Machine. I knew the original was heterosexist.

9. 40 Days and 40 Nights.  Hetero-romantic comedy starring Josh Hartnett (left)
10. Cabin Fever.  Starred Rider Strong of Boy Meets World, but I heard that there was a joke about killing gay people.
11. Tuck Everlasting. Hetero-romance starring the homophobic  Jonathan Jackson.
12. Boat Trip.  Homophobic.

And the ones I saw:
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Sam and Frodo subtext.
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Harry and Ron subtext.
3. Chicago. Strong lesbian subtext.
4. Sweet Home Alabama. Gay character.

5. Spy Kids 2.  Children's movie starring Daryl Sabara (left, later photo), who doesn't express any hetero-horniness.
6. Insomnia.  I thought it looked interesting.
7. Big Fat Liar. Children's movie starring Frankie Muniz of Malcolm in the Middle, who befriends a girl but doesn't fall in love with her.
8. Orange County. Gay characters.
9. Clockstoppers.  A boy (Jesse Bradford) and a girl stop time, but don't fall in love.
10. The Mothman Prophecies.  I'm into the paranormal.
11. Far From Heaven.  Gay married man in the 1950s.
12. The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde!

Looks like one movie in every six lacks gay content.

But wait -- I started three more:

1. 28 Days Later.  Cilian Murphy fights zombies with a man and a woman. I'm all set for a nice triangulation, when all of a sudden the man dies.  I don't wait around for the fade-out kiss.

2. Igby Goes Down.  Title made it seem obviously gay-themed, and I heard the star, Kieran Culkin (left), was gay.  Not gay-themed, no gay characters. I left during the amazingly homophobic portrayal of a bi drug dealer.

3. Spider-Man It begins with Tobey Maguire (top photo) stating "Like all good stories, this story is about [a boy and] a girl."  All good stories?  I'm outta there.

Bill Mumy's Music

As a kid, Billy Mumy was everywhere, on The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, Ozzie and Harriet, Bewitched, The Munsters.  But Boomers remember him most clearly as Will Robinson on Lost in Space (1965-68), zapping through the universe with his family, facing campy monsters who growled "Crush! Kill!  Destroy!" while the Robot boomed "Danger, Will Robinson!"

And by the way: no episode suggested, in context or subtext, that the hedonistic stowaway Dr. Smith had any erotic intentions toward  the preteen.  They bonded because Dr. Smith was really just a big kid himself.

Boomers followed Bill's post-Lost in Space career with interest.

His homoromantic buddy-bonding (and extended underwear shots) in Wild in the Streets (1968) and Bless the Beasts and Children (1971).

His voice-over work.

His work in science fiction, especially as the alien Lennier on Babylon Five.

His musical career.

As half of the comedy-song duo "Barnes & Barnes," he authored the classics "Fish Heads" and "Homophobic Dream," plus the infinitely risque "Party in My Pants" and "Swallow My Love."

Still, heterosexism intrudes.

Bill wrote the Eclipse comic book version of Lost in Space, which ages Will's two sisters into adulthood, gives them enormous breasts, and places them in seductive positions.

His solo lyrics are loaded down with references to "girls" and "girlfriends" and "wives" and the women who bring meaning to our lives.

"The Ballad of William Robinson" imagines that thirty years have passed and Will Robinson and family are still chugging through the cosmos, discouraged and despondent. The middle-aged Will complains that there are no women in outer space except for his mother and sisters, so:

I’ll never take a wife
No children will I father 
I have no normal life. 

“Show me mercy in this universe,” he wails, “For I am lost in space.”

No matter how iconoclastic, Bill Mumy still equates heterosexual marriage and reproduction with normalcy, and eliminates the existence of gay people from the universe.

Aug 15, 2012

Jaws and Gay Romance

In 1975, I was too young to see Jaws. I saw it anyway.  All of my friends told me that it was terrifying -- and it was -- but no one mentioned the sizzling intensity of the attraction between police chief Martin Brody (43-year old Roy Scheider, veteran of many two-fisted shirtless roles):

And grad student shark expert Matt Hooper (27 year old Richard Dreyfuss, fresh from playing a high schooler in American Graffiti). 

Gruff Brody hates his small town by the ocean, and citified Hooper doesn't fit in among his intellectual grad student peers.  At their first meeting, Brody and Hooper feel an instant affinity: both are using the sea to escape from themselves. Later, Brody returns to his house, feeling guilty because he has not warned people adequately about the shark attacks. His wife tries to console him, but then Hooper arrives with bottles of wine in hand and asks, with compassion, “How was your day?” The wife, increasingly ignored as they seek solace with each other, butts out. 

For the next few days, Brody and Hooper are inseparable. They dissect a shark; they take a moonlit cruise in search of a lost ship; and they hire a sailor named Quint to help them seek out the killer shark. Hooper’s expertise is superfluous once Quint is on the case; but he stays at Brody’s side anyway, even though it means skipping a glorious eighteen-month long shark-study expedition that he has long desired. 

They sail out into the ocean and find the mad super-shark, and Hooper decides to descend in a shark-proof cage and shoot it. He gives Brody his glasses to hold, and since his hands are occupied, Brody puts them in his mouth. The gesture is amazingly intimate. 

The shark bites through the cage and attacks Hooper, who floats to the sea bottom, apparently dead. Then it eats Quint, and almost eats Brody, but he manages to fire his gun at an air canister it is chomping, exploding it. 

The original Peter Benchley novel is over, but the movie isn’t. As Brody floats, alone and heartbroken, clinging to the wreckage of the ship, Hooper reappears, unharmed. He swims over and places his arm atop Brody’s and smiles. It is their first deliberate touch, aching with joy and desire.

When the credits started to roll, I knew that the story was just beginning. Brody had found his redemption in Hooper’s smile, and Hooper had found a home in Brody’s arms. 


Arlo and Chad: Orange County Gay Couple

Orange County (2002), a comedy starring Colin Hanks as a high school senior torn between buddies at home and and a distant college, features an explicit same-sex romance.

I assumed that buff slacker buddies Arlo (Kyle Howard) and Chad (RJ Knoll) were standard movie buddies with a unstated homoerotic attraction, like Dave and Chainsaw in Summer School -- especially when they were shown trying to pick up girls.  But then they make an announcement:

Chad: Last night we’re at this party, little Arlo here decides to profess his undying love for me. Didn’t I tell you he was a fruitcake?

Arlo: That’s not true, Bro. Here’s what really happened. Chad crashed at my house, right, and I woke up in the night, he was fondling my. . . .

Chad: Dude, I lost my keys. I was looking for ‘em.

Very clear, isn't it: they have had sex, and they are in love. They are sitting in their car in a position of quiet intimacy, at peace with each other. They are delighted that there is no longer any doubt about whether they are lovers. Their friends respond with approving grins, not with surprise, since they were aware that the two were a couple all along.

Oddly, the screenplay was written by Mike White, who also wrote and starred in the execrable Chuck & Buck (2000).

But most fan reviews of Orange County on and the Internet Movie Database seem utterly confused: “What the heck does that scene mean?”; “Weird scene”; “It’s a joke, right?”; “Are they supposed to be gay, or what?”

Why are reviewers baffled?  Because they believe that no fictional characters can be gay unless they are Wearing a Sign.  Arlo and Chad have never explicitly stated "We are gay," so they must be taken as heterosexual. Why would they profess their "undying love" and have sex?  It must be a joke.

Aug 14, 2012

Mike Henry's Tarzan

There were several Tarzans in the 1960s -- Denny Miller's blond beach boy, Ron Ely's lanky environmentalist, Johnny Weissmuller flickering on late-night reruns -- but Mike Henry captured the imagination of the Now Generation.  The former football star and tv cowboy donned a loincloth for Paramount only three times -- in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966), Tarzan and the Great River (1967), and Tarzan and the Jungle Boy (1968).  He had signed up to play Tarzan on tv, but he opted out and continued his career fully clothed.

Why was Mike Henry the iconic 1960s Tarzan?

1. He had a hairy chest.  Previous Tarzans had been muscular, of course, but only Mike Henry was a bear.

2. He got out of Africa.  Fighting the Waziri headhunters and elephant poachers was hackneyed. Mike Henry's Tarzan explored the jungles of Mexico, South America and Southeast Asia.

3. He was well-educated and sophisticated, more James Bond than Noble Savage.  Edgar Rice Burroughs' literary Tarzan was fluent in English and French -- it was Johnny Weissmuller who invented the "Me Tarzan" lingo.  Mike Henry returned to sophisticated Tarzan of the novels, taking his clothes off only when the plot required it (during 9/10ths of the movie).

4. He rescued and bonded with kid sidekicks: Ramel in Valley of Gold and Pepe in The Great River (both played by Manuel Padilla Jr.),  and of course the Jungle Boy (played by Steve Bond). They were too young to be his romantic interests, but gay boys who were about that age themselves certainly fantasized about fading into the sunset with Mike Henry's muscular arm around their shoulders. 

Incidentally, Steve Bond, who played the Jungle Boy in 1968, grew up to be a popular Playgirl centerfold:

G.I. Joe and Ken

Introduced in 1964 to get boys used to the idea of fighting in Vietnam when they grew up, G.I. Joe is the bestselling boys' doll of all time (though he is marketed as a "movable fighting man").

He was cute, and since he was movable, you could have fun adventures with him, like have the bad guys force him and a buddy to kiss.

Unfortunately, when you took his clothes off, you got this:

Barbie's "boyfriend" Ken, introduced in 1961, was more fun.  He came wearing a swimsuit, with a natural-looking body that got more buff as time passed:

Unfortunately, no letter to Santa Claus or picture circled in a toy catalog ever produced a Ken doll.  Your sister or the girl down the block certainly had one, but she always wanted to play "Barbie and Ken at the prom."

If you were very lucky, she might let you play "Ken goes to the beach with his 'buddy' Allan while Barbie is out of town."  Note that the term "buddy" is in quotes on the box.

See also: The Big Men of American Tall Tales

Max Gail the Bodybuilding Cop

On Barney Miller (1975-82), an ensemble comedy about the cops and criminals in a wacky New York precinct, Max Gail played the naïve/dumb hunk Wojo, a precursor to Woody on Cheers and Joey on Friends. But he was quite a hunk, massive as a bodybuilder in pants so tight he could barely sit down, with soft brown hair, a disarming little-boy grin, and square hard hands that jutted uncomfortably from his wide 70’s cuffs. At least one episode showed him shirtless. Who cared if he always failed the detective’s exam?

But Wojo offered more than beefcake. In its early seasons, Barney Miller featured two swishy gay criminals, and there are hints that Wojo’s attempts to bond with them masks a turmoil in his own mind, a growing realization that he, too, has such “feelings.” In “Quarantine” he demands of Mr. Driscoll, “Haven’t you ever tried it with a girl?” then waxes silent,when the criminal admits that he has indeed tried “it” to the point of siring a son. 

 Wojo himself tries “it” valiantly and exhaustively for awhile, but then his heterosexual profligacy fades in the face of increasing joy with squard room comrades and outside friends. 

In “Wojo’s Problem," Wojo discovers that he is sterile, and Officer Levitt (Ron Carey) exclaims "But you're so. . .big!" "That's got nothing to do with it!", Wojo snaps. Sterility comes dangerously close to a metaphor for gayness.

In “Inquisition," Wojo accidentally “outs” a gay cop, who will probably be fired. He says dismally “I feel like such a Judas.” Dietrich quips “At least you didn’t kiss him.” Could kissing be a possibility?

In “Examination Day," Wojo finally passes the detective's exam, and he excitedly makes a phone call:

We can pick up a little food, go to my place, and start celebratin’. But better be ready. . .’cause this time I’m a sergeant. [Notices Barney staring at him in disapproval, flashes a guilty grin, covers the phone with his hand.] Just telling a few friends the good news.

Presumably the writers expect us to conclude that Wojo is talking to a woman, but he never specifies a gender. If it is indeed a woman, why would Barney evidence such strong disapproval? The cops make personal calls all the time, and certainly Wojo is justified in announcing the good news. Maybe Wojo is planning a romantic dinner with a man.

After Barney Miller, Max Gail played beefy, balding hunks in many movies and tv series, including Whiz Kids, with Matthew Laborteaux. He has played gay characters several times, most notably on The Drew Cary Show, with Batman Adam West as his partner.

A Far-Off Place: Bonding in the Kalahari

In the Disney movie A Far Off Place (1993), pragmatic outback girl Nonni (16-year old Reese Witherspoon) and stuck-up city boy Harry (15-year old Ethan Randall) are the only survivors when poachers attack the gamekeeper's farm in Zimbabwe.  With the killers pursuing them, their only chance is to cross the Kalahari desert, along with the Bushman Xhabbo (Sarel Bok) and a dog.

It's a long, dangerous journey, requiring teamwork, courage, and sacrifice.  They must all depend on each other to survive.

It has all happened before, in Walkabout (1971), and it would happen again, in Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog  (1995), starring Jesse Bradford,  and in about a dozen other "trapped in the wilderness" movies but the lush score and striking African scenery almost make up for the hackneyed plot.

Gay-vague Harry never displays the least romantic interest in Nonni, but he does seem to like Xhabbo's spare, muscular physique.  However, Xhabbo does not express any romantic interest in either of them (in the original novel by Laurens Van Der Post, Xhabbo's wife comes along, but here she is absent).

One expects Harry and Nonni to hook up at the end -- in Disney movies there's always a fade-out kiss -- but not here.

Ethan Randall (later Ethan Embry) was a well-known child star (appearing here with Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation).  He would go on to play several gay characters, including Reese Witherspoon's best friend in Sweet Home Alabama (2002).

Aug 13, 2012

Anthony Starke

Born in 1963, Anthony Starke started out playing cute, cool, or surly teens.  Between 1985 and 1990, he played on over a dozen tv programs (Silver Spoons, 21 Jump Street, One Big Family) and movies.

The horror movie spoof Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988) is notable for his shirtless scene, and for his buddy-bond with George Clooney. 

Though his roles were often small, his scenes weren't; they usually required him to take his shirt off.

He worked steadily through the 1990s and 2000s, extending his range to play priests, killers, cowboys, and cops, but his speciality was comedy.  On Seinfeld, he was "The Jimmy," the guy who always referred to himself in the third person.

He was a wisecracking bartender on The George Carlin Show (1994-95), a black-sheep brother on Suddenly, Susan (1996-97), and a Southern con man on the buddy-bonding The Magnificent Seven (1998-2000). Again, he often was required to take his shirt off:

He hasn't played any gay characters, and his personal quote on the Internet Movie Database is gratingly heterosexist, about kissing the girl being "every boy's fantasy."  But sometimes beefcake is enough.

See also: 12 Forgotten Beefcake Boys of the 1980s


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